AVFC FCG Meeting Notes

12 November 2019

Fan Reps                   

John Insley              Villa View

John Gillett             Lions Clubs

Scott Jones             Villa Talk

Jonathan Fear         Vital Villa

Nick Sanders            avillafan.com

Peter Warrilow         AV Supporters Trust

David Michael           My Old Man Said

Apologies                  

Dave Woodhall        Heroes & Villans

Joanne McKibbens AV Disabled Supporters Association

Steve Gough             AV Independent Supporters Clubs

Club Reps

Paul Tyrrell                Chief Corporate Affairs Officer

Nicola Ibbetson       Chief Commercial Officer

Lee Preece               Supporter Liaison Manager

Apologies                  

Tommy Jordan         Communications Director

Main Agenda:

Discussion as to the operation of the group:

  1. Process for adding representatives.

Club response: The club has been looking to widen representation at the FCG and believes the inclusion of Villans Together, Villa & Proud and The Punjabi Villans to the group would widen representation in areas of the supporter base perhaps not currently represented.  Any suggestions are welcome on any other groups who could participate in this process in the future, whilst being mindful that meetings take place with an appropriate number of representatives that allows meaningful and trusted discussions to take place.

Our remit – for instance, Would the FCG not be a good sounding board for issues such as the resell system?

The club agreed and welcomes the opportunity to consult with the FCG in a way that assists and shapes our decision-making process.  The club highlighted the Heritage & History meetings as a great example of how listening to the ideas from FCG inspired much of the stadium dressing that took place across the summer.  

With the number of retail questions presented on the agenda, the club suggested arranging a meeting with representatives from Kappa and Fanatics to discuss outstanding issues and in the case of Kappa, to establish a dialogue on shirt production and design – while being mindful of the lead times in the manufacturing process. For instance, next season’s kit has already been designed and is scheduled for production.

The club also offered to brief the group on season ticket pricing for 2020/21  and listen to the groups views on pricing ahead of any firm decisions being made. PT and NI both suggested widening the Away Ticket Consultation Group’s brief to cover all areas of ticketing. This was agreed by FCG, with all members invited to contribute and attend.

Are disabled matters meant to be brought to the FCG or a separate meeting?

Premier League architects have carried out a thorough audit of Villa Park to see how we may be able to meet Accessible Stadia Guide requirements.  Once the results of this audit are known a separate meeting with FCG, AVDSA and AVIDS reps will need to be arranged.  We are hopeful in the short term to have identified an option for locating away wheelchair users with their own supporters in the Doug Ellis Lower.

General Questions

Turnstiles:    Reports of extensive delays getting into Trinity Road due to turnstiles still not operating under the Trinity archway. With gates regularly over 40K, the club to consider reopening all turnstiles to manage the queues?

We are not sure which match(es) this refers to.  Following receipt of this item we have checked CCTV and records such as stile counts for the last few matches and cannot see queues or extensive delays at kick-off.  

We had staffing issues for the Wolves Cup match which saw delays for those entering the Doug Ellis Stand which we will look to address for future cup matches.  

There are five turnstiles underneath the archway which service the middle and lower tier only (they cannot be used to service the upper tier) which may have led to this feedback being raised.  These are surplus to requirements for the middle & lower tier.

At the meeting it was reported that at one of the matches the club was late opening turnstiles for A block which caused an unnecessary build-up of fans entering early.

Payment:   Has the club look to make transactions cashless as much as possible, can programmes be made available via card?

We recognise this as an issue and will need to investigate how we can find a solution. 

Problems persist with cash loaded to cards and then being rejected so fans have had to use cash/other cards at matches.

We have resolved all known issues (reported to [email protected]) and are continuing to monitor and improve the service.  For example, ahead of the next game every till point around the stadium will have FAQ response sheets.  

Fans should be advised to use their pin on first payment (which can be found on the portal at the same place they top up) and use their pin after every 5 transactions. The scheme will be taking a step up when we join with Barclays which will enhance the payment technology and make it open payment (so can be spent anywhere).  This test will be starting in spring 2020 ahead of a full launch for season 20/21.

Foreign supporter clubs

A better and more established relationship between the club and foreign supporters clubs. 

Example from a fan: When I attempted to “join” the AZ Villans (official club) through the official club website my email was never received by the designated chairman of the club, and it wasn’t until I linked to them through a separate social media site (facebook) that I was able to “join.” I was told that the club official email subscription link hasn’t been working for a very long time. This is surely resulting in lost fans (and lost revenue) for the club?

We do not see this as a relationship issue – it is a technical issue with fans looking to register via the website with a Lions Club that we have been looking to resolve across the summer.  

As we are sure our overseas Chairpersons would testify, the relationship between the club and our Chairs is very strong.  Generally, this is an important area of growth for the club and we’re looking at all of our global memberships / lions clubs etc especially now we’re in the PL.

Shop and Online shop       

Overseas return issue for wrongly sized / faulty goods. XL shirt bought after reading sizing guide. Turned out ‘ludicrously small.’ No exchange feature available. Return process resulted in $16.55 shipping charge. Postal worked when asked said direct with them it would have been $5.20, the rate up to 20KG.

  1. Why do they force customers to pay for return-shipping on an item that was wrong due to poor manufacturing and/or website sizing guide?
  2. Why is the flat-rate shipping cost for a shirt the rate payable for a package weighing over 20KG?

Fanatics online size chart uses guidelines from all of their individual kit and apparel suppliers.  These replicate the size charts that are featured on their own brand websites, distributed globally, to ensure consistency.  However, sizing has been an area of complaint on the Kappa product this year and has been passed back to the company to review.  Year 1 of a brand switch can often result in sizing challenges as consumers get used to the new fit that the new brand offers.  This year’s Kappa product also included the introduction of Elite player options (it’s unclear which product the supporter who raised the issue bought). By their nature these are tighter fitting in design when compared to the standard versions offered last year.

This has been a relatively new change to procedure and was implemented recently by Fanatics based on industry trends and operational challenges.  Industry trends see fewer and fewer retailers offering an exchange facility.  Operationally, the exchange process was also causing additional fan contact whereby a higher volume of exchanges did not have the alternative size available.  An exchange is still possible as such but requires an item to be returned and a new order placed.  Fanatics contact team are happy to assist where required to help facilitate individual fans on this topic.

The AVFC Online store recommends the use of the ReBound Returns solution to manage the flow of orders back into Fanatics.  ReBound is a market leading platform that delivers an exceptional fan journey, enabling returns across 195 countries through multiple return methods.  This system offers AVFC fans the perfect solution globally to ensure the safe and secure return of a tracked order back to Fanatics.  A fan is free to return an item through any returns route but will be responsible for the secure shipping of this item and any incurred customs charges.  The ReBound solution provides all this in one go (difficult to comment on the comparative costs that are quoted without knowing the fans location, item being returned and type of return method quoted to them).

As above, the ReBound Returns solution is Fanatics chosen option and it believes it provides the easiest and safest solution for tracked returns to the global AVFC fanbase.  We’ve had no indication that there is a manufacturing issue with size and the size guideline in use matches those currently supplied by the brand.  Returns monitor all items coming back in and flag any trends that are seen.  Spot checks are then carried out to ensure that the physical stock in location matches sizing expectations.

It’s difficult for Fanatics to comment on specifics here without full knowledge of service offered on the quoted $5.20.  We’re making an assumption here that the fan is in the US (having quoted $). Assuming that to be the case, Fanatics use untracked mail for standard parcels which will go through USPS mail system. For express orders they use DHL Express. Market analysis shows they sit competitively between some of the big UK retailers with their UK £6.95 delivery into US for standard v Sports Direct at ‘from £5.33’ and JD at £9.99.

Unclear when this feedback was from but 1) record sales have caused the issues in store across replica/training specifically.  Many but not all of these have already had stock replenishment with more to come – but some are unavailable.  2) New AV fashion lines are already in store and online to help refresh the offering.

Poor stock in the shop. Sizing often not available.

Any update on whether simple stock like claret and blue hats, scarves and gloves will be available this winter?

Hats and beanies were unfortunately delayed but are now in store.  Further branded options are in the pipeline, delivery tbc.

Why is the music so loud in the shop? It has been brought up by several users on my site that they’ve walked in and couldn’t’ stand it/left before buying anything.

Music hasn’t been previously flagged as an issue and we’ll investigate.

Kit      

Despite the update the club gave via The Trust, there are still questions on the sizing, poor quality and availability.

Many felt the reply from the club was condescending, i.e. telling customers to wash the garments correctly and that sizing shouldn’t be so complicated. Some are buying XL instead of large and still finding them too tight to wear.

As above, we’re using the Kappa size chart that replicates theirs.  There is no indication from Kappa that this is incorrect or that any stock Fanatics have checked has had an issue.  

Brand switch is likely the key issue here along with some new tighter fitted lines, this being the ‘tailored’ element to design. 

Tickets        

This is covered in the away consultancy group but it is a repeated issue, so:  Complaint re the jump from season ticket holders and 9 away games from last season to season ticket holders.  

We have 6,000 new season ticket holders this season, so people who went to 8 away games last season go head to head with those people. I know they want to give fans the chance to go to away games but you should always reward those who’re most loyal first?

There has to be a cut-off point and some supporters are always going to miss out, but we do want a greater proportion of fans able to access and have the possibility of going to their first away match.

The wait on the phone to get through to the ticket office. For example, taking 15 minutes to get through to the ticket office, just after 9am?

We are recruiting new staff to provide additional support.

Once again the 50p charge per ticket has been brought up.  Some buying multiple tickets are saying how disproportionate the charge becomes.  

Admin fee for home match tickets can be avoided by purchasing on-line and selecting e-ticket, the charge only applies if there is a manual intervention for fulfilment of the ticket whether that be postage or telephone handling.

Pride Rewards       

Complaints re. not being able to login and losing points. Plus, rewards such as wallpapers.

Again, most issues should now be sorted and resolved.  We are not aware of any outstanding issues that have been reported as of 6th Nov.  Scheme is still improving and again when we join with Barclays we will take a step up. Some login issues are due to the delayed memberships being activated with card printing.  The range of items on the rewards portal has increased with the relaunch a couple of weeks ago which includes digital items like classic programme and wallpapers.

Seat Exchange System

  1. Do the club believe it fair that season ticket holders only get 1/19thvalue for any game despite the fact the tickets are then re-sold, for instance for a category A game, at far more than the value fans can sell them for?

2. And further to point 1, is it fair to then also charge a handling fee?

3. Many fans don’t seem to realise this system exists; it might be worth further promotion on the official site/social media channels.  This is also the sort of information many in this group could share IF we were sent the information.

The calculation is mindful fans should not extract more over the season than the original cost of the season ticket.  The handling fee is a proportion of the charge the Club is subjected to for facilitating the process.   We do encourage its use but any help FCG can provide to make fans aware would be appreciated.

Embed from Getty Images

VAR   

How much of what we see on the big screens about VAR checks is down to the club? As a paying customer I’d be really grateful if I had a clue what was going on during these checks and, indeed, I’d be grateful if I knew that they were actually taking place.

Fans will know that VAR is under review.  The club has raised a number of points on its operation to the Premier League.  Any delays to a decision being communicated within the stadium are due to the length of time it takes VAR to alert us at Villa Park. Once we receive the alert, it is placed on the screens within seconds.  Everything you see on the screen is sent to us by VAR.

Supporters are likely to be aware of similar issues with this process across all grounds.

Disabled Issues:     

Update on when we will be up to the requirements re disabled spacing.  Can the club liaise with the disabled groups re training for the stewards, especially around hidden disabilities?  

Complaints, especially in the Holte Suite, re low-level counters, accessibility and making signage more visible.  There have been complaints on ambulant only being allowed 12 tickets and they are only allowed to sit on the front row at the away game for Man Utd.  Can’t something be done about this allocation?

All matters to be raised at the separate Disability FCG meeting.

Around Villa Park

The general condition of the area around Villa Park

  1. Rubbish in the streets
  2. Street parking of cars adjacent to the stadium
  3. Dispersal of fans and traffic after games
  4. Park and ride possibilities

While the club is sympathetic to these issues, all we can do is to continue to raise these matters with the local authorities.

League Cup Tickets   

With over 5000 not turning up for the free tickets v Wolves in the League cup, will the club consider re-allocating the tickets in the future for a similar situation?

As alerted to earlier in the notes, we will be looking to consult with the FCG on season ticket pricing for 20/21.  This will include sharing the finances involved with such a provision.

Claret Membership          

Delay to distributing cards…example:           

My brother bought this for me back in July/August as an early birthday present and so I could take advantage of it from the start of the season. My birthday was 22 September. I’ve still received nothing. Furthermore, according to AVFC Support on Twitter, I am not permitted to access Pride Rewards as I’m a new member. So I’ve been restricted to one of my perks for having the investment take place. It seems absurd something is taking so long. Particularly as I believe I can only access the Members Ballot for away tickets through the portal. Would be interested to know what justification the club have for such incompetence. They were initially blaming getting Season Tickets out first, but we’re now through two international breaks.

We acknowledge there was a delay in mailing member cards due to the intensely busy period at the start of the season and due to unprecedented demand, more cards had to be ordered.  This would not have prevented inclusion in the away ticket or mascot ballot as steps were put in place for this to be ran through the ticketing system. The ballot process only started through the Pride Rewards portal at the last away match and there was still a dual process being operated for those who hadn’t received their cards.  Benefits, like the priority window for tickets, would have been available along with the £10 ticket discount redemption from the time of purchase.  Thankfully all cards are printed now.

On-going Issues From Previous Meetings… Any Updates?

Wifi issues  

 Wifi at Brighton & Hove Albion was excellent, where are we with improvements to ours?

Wifi is currently provided in all hospitality areas, but we are not planning any large scale wifi deployments across the stadium.

What we are currently working on, is to install a new 4G mobile operator network that will accommodate both EE and O2 customers.  Vodafone already have a system installed in the stadium. EE and O2 have both confirmed equipment design and installation details and we are in the process of certifying with our structural engineers.  These in building systems are a significant investment cost, both EE and O2 are funding and picking up the full costs which is excellent news.

EE engineers are performing final surveys in readiness for us to agree heads of terms and begin the process of ordering the equipment.

Screens       

Update on when the screens will be fitted.

The screen in Doug Ellis / North Stand corner is being replaced, repositioned and will be operational from our next match versus Newcastle on Mon 25thNovember.

The screen in Holte End / Trinity Road Stand corner will be replaced and operational from our match versus Leicester City on Sunday 8thDecember.

Food Issues                        

Update on the situation with the club if anything can be provided gluten free at the stadium (Including beer! Purity apparently do a gluten free beer).

We will look to include a question within the next fan survey on demand for gluten free products to estimate demand.   If there is sufficient demand we will look to expand the offering.

PA                  

Is the PA system now fully updated and performing as required? 

Both the North Stand and the Trinity Road Stand PA systems have been completed and performing as required.  The Holte End will have a new PA system in time for our next match versus Newcastle on Mon 25th November.

The Doug Ellis Stand is a more complicated installation. We estimate that our matches over the Christmas period is a realistic target for completion.

AVTV         

Still not delivering a top class service? 

We recognise that while we have brought positive change to AVTV in the last few months, it still requires further improvement and are launching a new free service via the club website, before the end of the year.  

We have recruited a new digital content team to support this upgraded service, bringing in experienced professionals from other club and promoting from within the existing club staff to further strengthen provision in this area. The previous policy of outsourcing content has ended.

We are pleased with the changes we have made to our social media coverage this year and will continue to provide relevant and engaging football-focused content on club channels.

Club Feedback       

Are there any issues the Club wishes to bring up, or feedback they wish to give?  This should be a two-way process.

Nakamba chant

The club also asked Keith Wiseman, Safety Officer and Head of Security attended briefly to give an update to the group on the approach taken jointly between WMP and the club with regards to the supporters identified participating in the offensive Marvellous Nakamba chant at the Norwich game.

Mr Wiseman said there was a comprehensive, multi agency investigation and effort in this matter and while it was still on-going, no further information could be publicised. When the matter is completed, the club will update FCG and expect to work with WMP in publicising the results and findings.

FCG reps and the club discussed this issue including the importance of education and how best to avoid repeats in the future.  The FCG kindly offered to help the club by continuing to disseminate and support key messages in the future.

[ends]

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